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Field devices provide the lifeblood for Industry 4.0

Field devices provide the lifeblood for Industry 4.0

When Industry 4.0 is discussed, those discussions often start at the highest levels of the network and the flexibility in production that these network implementations will bring. But Industry 4.0 depends on the data generated by field devices, as Turck product manager Sai Seidel-Sridhavan explained to Mark Simms.

Within the Industry 4.0 debate, Batch Size 1 has become one of the most frequently discussed topics, summing up in one short phrase many of the goals that manufacturers are seeking to address. Batch Size 1 is all about bringing the highest level of flexibility into the production environment to enable manufacturers to address customer requirements for smaller production runs and greatly increased levels of product customisation. The ultimate objective would be to have a production line where every single product could be a customised product.

You can’t do that without highly automated series production, and one of the keys is pushing a greater level of intelligence down to field level – firstly to generate the essential field level data that is the enabler for Industry 4.0, but secondly to enable smarter automation systems to be developed more easily to deliver greater production flexibility.

Field level products – such as sensors, fieldbus modules, field logic controllers and, increasingly, RFID systems – provide the backbone for gathering, processing and transferring the production data that Industry 4.0 depends on. And by focusing on more intelligent field devices, those companies driving forward with Industry 4.0 can reap the benefits of modular automation, including the ability to reconfigure production lines more quickly for different requirements.

“If we put greater intelligence into different machine modules, then not only do we generate more and better data, but also we can start to look at taking some of the burden off the PLC,” says Seidel-Sridhavan. “Field logic provides decentralised computation, and it’s scalable and easy to work with. It bridges a gap between dumb I/O modules and a full PLC.” Field logic is a concept that Turck has defined, with the launch of I/O modules with built in logic controllers. They deliver an ideal enabler for Industry 4.0 solutions by promoting increased flexibility.

Seidel-Sridhavan adds that communications standards are another building block for Industry 4.0, and while it is OPC UA and industrial Ethernet that steal the headlines, he argues that technologies such as RFID and IO-Link are a key part of the puzzle. RFID, for example, provides flexible control of production processes and, when combined with field logic modules, provides robust solutions with distributed intelligence for data processing or for control tasks. IO-Link, meanwhile, brings intelligence down to field devices where Ethernet may not be appropriate. “RFID is bringing greater intelligence into the field, while IO-Link is embedding intelligence into even the simplest of devices,” says Seidel-Sridhavan.

Simple interfaces between IO-Link and other fieldbus or industrial Ethernet systems then enable more comprehensive data acquisition and communication solutions, for example with IO-Link enabled sensors reporting more informative status reports, error data

and trend information. “Standardisation is an essential aspect of all of this, “ says Seidel-Sridhavan. “You could achieve a lot of this without standardisation of communications, but it’s standards that enable you to do it cost-effectively.”

With a full range of smart field products, industrial Ethernet and OPC UA enabled products within Turck’s portfolio, Seidel-Sridhavan stresses that an Industry 4.0 solution depends on the interplay between the broadest spread of automation components, from sensors to robust I/O modules and field logic controllers at one level, right through to data storage in the cloud at the other.

Multiprotocol interfaces simply system integration

Selecting I/O modules for industrial Ethernet integration has tended to be an absolute decision; a Profinet module was only ever going to be a Profinet module, and an EtherNet/IP module was never going to be anything other than an EtherNet/IP module. Of course vendors support lots of different protocols, but changing at some point down the line means replacing one interface module with another.

But that picture has changed with Turck Banner’s multiprotocol modules. Not only do these make first time plug-in simple, they also make it easy to move from one protocol to another, so protecting any investment you make. The multiprotocol products support EtherNet/IP, Profinet and Modbus TCP in a single device. They are self-configuring and offer seamless transition to industrial Ethernet, whatever the protocol that you might be using. The gateway (slave) recognises the master upon power-up, and self configures for the master protocol. Furthermore, an impressive array of advanced features for each supported protocol has been incorporated into the devices to meet many unique application needs.

Options include the BL67 on-machine modular I/O and the BL20 in-cabinet modular I/O, both offering a multiprotocol gateway with interface to the higher level control system, and programmable features for local or distributed control. Modules are provided for digital and analogue I/O, serial connection, IO-Link, counter, PWM, etc, and there is support for the BL-ident RFID system featuring HF and UHF technology.

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